“My doctor said it was a miscarriage, then I woke up in a hospital where I almost died.”

surviving ectopic pregnancy

My partner Amir, our daughter Layla and I were overseas in Croatia. We had been there since July that year, so six months already and  decided early on to celebrate Layla’s first birthday in Pula, as most of our family were in Europe. December 1 was her birthday, and we had her celebration on the second.

December is a month I will never forget, for a few standout reasons. Obviously Layla’s first birthday, it took us a lot of pain to get her here as I have two blocked fallopian tubes and my daughter was conceived via IVF (my tubes were as good as tied — words of my doctor) and here she was turning one. It was also the month I ‘conceived’ naturally.

The day before her birthday was the last day of my period. Considering my body was clockwork ever since having Layla, I should have expected Aunt Flo around December 22 2017, give or take a day but always on time. Now, I would have usually paid very good attention to these details, but this month was a little different.

We decided to drive to Bosnia on the December 25. I distinctly remember thinking, it was time to get my period, and I had made the extra effort of packing pads in Layla’s nappy bag. Our days continued as normal, husband was working, Layla would wake up, we’d have breakfast, travel down the six flights of stairs, for our morning walk to the town.

Our second day back and I started feeling a little strange, a little not-my-self. I originally put it down to the travel but once I started getting cramps, a thought popped into my head. Could I be… pregnant? This thought I knew was crazy but just like that, it wouldn’t leave.

late ectopic pregnancy
"Our second day back and I started feeling a little strange, a little not-my-self." Image: Instagram.

Then I found my pads I packed in Layla’s nappy bag, untouched. I was two weeks late, what possible explanation could I have for that – I kept having an argument with my inner self day in day out: "Nadina, snap out of it, you can’t get pregnant." I tried to go on with my days, but then my lower back flared up, unusual as I had never had any problems with my back. I assumed it was from picking Layla up and carrying her up and down all them stairs. I tried to convince myself that was the reason for it, but I just couldn’t stop thinking…

So when hubby got home that day I expressed my concern to him. He went and bought me a test, he gave it to me and his words still sit with me: "I know this is it". I went to the toilet and did what I needed to do – I was so frustrated with myself, why am I doing this again; thinking I was pregnant when I wasn’t. I finished up, washed my hands, looked over; and I just paused.

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It was positive.

I’d seen a million of these tests, but never a positive and here I was, with one in my hands, and I had no idea what to do. I walked out of bathroom and boy was it hard, a living room full of people and I had to act like nothing just happened. I called my partner's name trying desperately to keep a straight face, but as soon as our eyes met a smile overtook my face that I could not control. This moment even if it was short-lived looking back now, it was one of my favourites — just pure happiness.

We had our appointment at night-time, an older doctor, beautiful little clinic and very prompt. I got prepared to undergo an ultrasound. I should have been about seven to eight weeks now according to the calculations, so baby should have been visible. When he turned the screen on, I could see what he was seeing, but I was trying so hard to hold on to my miracle desperately searching for something that resembled a baby.

But nothing.

The doctor asked if I had any pain in my sides, which I didn’t, but I did explain the pain in my lower back that kept me bedridden. He told me, this was 99 per cent a miscarriage, but he would send me for a blood test to confirm. The following day after my blood test the clinic had rung to tell me my HCG level was 17. I called the doctor as per his instructions and he told me it wasn’t a high enough number to be a viable pregnancy and it would wash out with my period. He confirmed it was a miscarriage (keep in mind this doctor had over 45 years of experience) – I asked if I should do another test in 48 hours to see if the number had fallen, but instead he got upset I was questioning him.

I would have perhaps gone to another doctor if I didn’t start bleeding the next day, however I assumed he was right so decided not to dwell on it and leave it at that. Even though it wasn’t viable, a miscarriage had meant I could still fall pregnant. I was over the moon, what great news.

late ectopic pregnancy
"I was trying so hard to hold on to my miracle desperately searching for something that resembled a baby." Image: Instagram.

Two weeks after; my back pain was still their but bearable, I tried to avoid lifting Layla as much as I could so I could rest my body.  February 8, we left for Tuzla, a total trip of twelve hours, six hours in we stopped for the sake of Layla and slept over night at my nan’s house, it was here I noticed something was wrong. Since the day I found out my results, the thought of still being pregnant had not crossed my mind at all. I had just put Layla to sleep, and on TV was The Princess Diaries, this movie I had watched a hundred times and never shed a tear, so when I was bawling my eyes out during the movie, I clicked, this wasn’t me, this was the hormones.

I’m still pregnant.

Later in the day I did a test, but this time I was two hundred per cent sure, enough to watch the positive that came within 0.2 seconds. Two thoughts crossed my mind, either I had fallen pregnant really late in my cycle (positive side) or that I had an ectopic pregnancy (realistic side). But I had no pain, not even in my back, no bleeding, nothing — it should be fine?

The next day we arrived in Tuzla, settled in our apartment. I guessed it might have been the travel, but I felt faint, I was getting overwhelmingly hot, and my vision was getting blurrier no matter how much I squinted. I had the worst gut feeling something was going to go wrong. I spoke to my partner and we both agreed to at least be proactive while we were there, so we booked in at a women’s clinic who were able to see us immediately.

The ultrasound, again, showed no baby, abnormally large fallopian tubes and two extremely large cysts. We spoke about the possibility it may be an ectopic, but she couldn’t confirm until I did two blood tests 24 hours apart.

The next day was spent getting my bloods taken again. The day passed with no pain or bleeding, a positive sign everything would work out. The plan for our last day was very specific, get up, pack all of our things in the car, see the doctor for my results and head for Zagreb.

The day was going as planned, everything was packed, Amir washed the car and I headed to my appointment alone. I walked up the stairs, greeted the ladies and took a seat, the seat where I experienced abdomen pain for the first time, it wasn’t that bad… but enough to make me flinch.

I was holding on to the chair so tightly desperate for my name to be called. There was a water fountain outside of the sitting room so in between what was feeling like contractions, I raced up to get a drink of water in hopes that it would calm me down. Of course as soon as I did that, I could hear my name being called from the waiting room.

Inside the vibe was different. I could see the doctor didn’t know how to express what she had to say, her face was worried and she kept asking how I was. I never liked people feeling sorry for me, I felt so little, so I just kept reassuring her I was fine, even though that may have not been the case in the waiting room. She sat and said, "It’s not good, it’s what I thought." My HCG levels came back at 19300 and as a clear sign of an ectopic the rise was only 30 which showed things were at their limit.

late ectopic pregnancy
"I caught my breath but only enough to realise the river of blood which was pouring uncontrollably down my legs." Image: Instagram.

"You need to go to the hospital, straight away," she said. I suppose I wasn’t surprised, I knew it was an ectopic. As soon as I realised I was still pregnant, even though I was sad, I was more angry at the entire situation. I mean, why didn’t I just go to another doctor at the start? This would have been dealt with so differently.

I walked all the way down the stairs, across the road, paid for my parking, but then when I got to my car door, the pain caught up to me, a pain that took my breath away. It was so sharp I could feel my insides bursting. I caught my breath but only enough to realise the river of blood which was pouring uncontrollably down my legs.

I had no idea what to do. I had the car, Layla and partner were at the apartment, we needed to leave as new people were coming, there was no one I could call and I would have just complicated things by going back in side. With that being said, I will never understand how I did this, but I got in that car, regained my composure and drove back to the apartment.

My partner had helped me up to the bathroom where blood just kept leaking, uncontrollably and really strong. It took a good five minutes to stop, but when it did the pain immediately subsided, like nothing had happened. I came out and the crazy person I am, I just wanted to continue on, I just didn’t care anymore, it was just bad news after bad news, a constant ride of ups and downs.

Finally, we were on our way to Zagreb, night-time had fallen and the pain was slowly coming back, the last thing I remembered was the radio playing and over to my right was Layla drinking her milk, from there I woke up to panic around me. I was in a wheelchair at the hospital, my partner had turned the car around when he realised I passed out. The hospital had accepted me immediately and placed me in a room with about eight other people while I waited for an operation.

My husband was filling out paperwork and I could hear my daughter screaming and crying ‘Mum’ in the hallway, but I was helpless I couldn’t go and lift her, hug or kiss her. I just lay there listening to her scream for me.

I was in that room for at least an hour, until I started to feel different; my vision went completely blurry, black fog started forming around my eyes, and my body became numb. I could hear things, but I couldn’t make out where or what it was coming from anymore. I had never experienced a seizure before and in the moment, I could feel my body shaking uncontrollably but I just couldn’t make out what was happening or gain control over any part of my body. It was like this horrible dream I couldn’t get out of.

A nurse had come running in and I distinctly remember her yelling, waving her hands in my face while another nurse was holding my tongue, everything stopped and it was finally over – I could finally breathe. It only took about five minutes before the next one started, the same way, my vision and then the numbness, but this time was worse the bed had no side rails and there were no doctors or nurses only other patients in the room. Before I knew it I had hit a hard surface. The nurses put me back on the bed and I just shut down, I gave up; 'This is it, I’m going to die." Next minute I was in a theatre, doctors with masks, the time 10:32pm above me and I was back out.

Four and a half hours later the operation had finished. I woke up to a room of four other ladies all who had surgery that night. I was sore, hooked up to some drips and machines with two cannulas, a drain and a catheter. The doctor came by and said, "Aaaa, Nadina, we nearly lost you." I swallowed, I had nothing to say anymore, what was I supposed to say? "We’ll need to do another blood transfusion as you lost too much blood, so you can expect to be here for the next seven to ten days." Ten days, are you kidding me? I felt robbed, robbed of my time, robbed of the last month, robbed of these ten days and robbed of the upcoming months for recovery.

I had a laparotomy that consisted of two incisions, one across my abdomen larger than a c-section and the second for a drain. The foetus measured at 3cm which was pretty impressive for an ectopic. The right tube ruptured and due to the build up from the past ten to eleven weeks the internal bleeding damaged all of my reproductive organs. My left fallopian tube was also removed and my right ovary. The left ovary was left but extensively damaged along with my uterus, which would mean slim chances of using my own eggs, and slimmer chances in ever carrying another full term pregnancy. Cue the doctor’s speech on how not to dwell on this, but instead remain positive I was alive, with the amount of blood that had filled my abdomen it wasn’t hours in question, but minutes.

Ten days in this hospital was tough, I was trying to overcome or come to terms with what just happened, but the environment made it harder everyday. It was hard being all alone in a vulnerable state, my partner and daughter were a ten to twelve hour drive from me, family didn’t know and then the nurses, their rude comments and arrogance would top it off.

The hospital had nothing. No toilet paper, no change of sheets or any sanitary goods. So when you bleed after your operation, if you don’t have pads, you stay in those sheets until they feel like they're ready to be changed. Then was recovery, which wasn’t easy, especially since Layla would hang on me wanting me to lift her, but having my partner's family around for this period made it much easier.

We came back to Australia one and a half months post op, and last month I went for a check up as I had some concerns. My wound was finally closed (it had been leaking for the past three months) but what worried me more was I had lost all feeling in my lower abdomen, so my doctor referred me to a nerve specialist who diagnosed me with neuropraxia, a transient loss of nerve conduction. Even though the time frame expects numbness to disappear within twelve weeks of surgery, it can take up to a year. If nothing has returned after a year it is expected it will never return, just the news you hope for after everything.

Was I thankful? Obviously, but I just had no idea what I felt, even four months post ruptured ectopic, I still don’t know to this day how I’m supposed to feel, everything changed in one day. Within one day I was faced with a life threatening emergency where I almost died, then ten days of treatment, loss of time with my loved ones, loss of feeling in my lower abdomen, loss of fertility all over again, loss of my organs, the loss of my baby and concerns about the future. Even if we were happy with just the one we always had, the option to change our mind was there, but not anymore, now it's set in concrete.

A version of this article appeared on Mum The Label.

Please do not take health advice from the anecdotal evidence presented in this article. If you are experiencing a variation of pain it is imperative that you see a qualified GP or call an ambulance on 000 in Australia immediately. 

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